Plate 1. The Departure of the Joads
This egg tempera and oil painting was created by Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton in 1940. The art was commissioned by 20th Century Fox to advertise their film production of John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath. The rugged depiction of form is typical of Benton’s unique regional art.
The original painting hangs in the Ralph Foster Museum. Be sure to visit the museum when you get the chance. The archives are incredibly extensive (they don’t call it the Smithsonian of the Ozarks for no reason!).
Thomas Hart Benton
from the Ralph Foster Archive
Great Ozarkian painter, Thomas Hart Benton, was born in Neosho, Missouri, on April 15, 1889, to Macenus E. And Elizabeth (Wise) Benton.
Benton was named for his great uncle, Missouri’s first senator.
Benton’s first mural was painted (at the age of six) on the stairway wallpaper. At 17, he was drawing cartoons for the Joplin Missouri American. In 1907, he went to Chicago to study at the Art Institute. At the age of 19, he set off for Paris to study; however, in the end he returned to Missouri, convinced that the best subject matter was his native country.
Benton married Rita Piacenza in 1922.
He is best known as a muralist and his works may be seen in the New School for Social Research (New York), the University of Indiana (Bloomington), the Jefferson City State Capitol and the Truman Library (Jefferson City and Independence, Missouri. respectively), as well as locations in New Britain (Connecticut), and Niagara Falls (New York).
He last work was done for the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
Thomas Hart Benton, who passed away in 1975, reached a pinnacle of fame as an exponent of regional painting. He is assured a permanent place among America’s greatest artists.
March 30, 2008